At least 17 people were killed and another 19 injured, some seriously, in a major fire followed by a blast at the Central Ammunition Depot, Pulgaon, in Wardha district in Maharashtra in the early hours of Tuesday, officials said.
The casualties, including fatalities and missing persons, is expected to increase even as nightlong fire-fighting efforts continued inside the sprawling CAD.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis have expressed grief over the loss of at least two officers and 15 soldiers in the tragedy.
"Pained by loss of lives caused by a fire at Central Ammunition Depot in Pulgaon, Maharashtra. My thoughts are with the bereaved families," Modi tweeted.
The prime minister has directed Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to visit the spot and take stock of the situation.
"News of fire at CAD, Pulgaon, is very unfortunate and disturbing. Spoke to Wardha collector and took stock of the situation," Fadnavis said on Tuesday.
The cause of the blaze is not yet known but fire-fighting operations by the defence fire brigade are underway in full swing at what is Asia's second biggest central ammunition depot.
The extent of damage to assets of defence and the exact figure of fatalities, are being ascertained, officials requesting anonymity said, even as the defence authorities ordered a probe into the incident.
Local eyewitnesses said that there were multiple explosions after a blaze due to unknown reasons at the defence depot around 1.30 a.m. on Tuesday.
Pulgaon is situated around 40 km from Wardha, the district headquarters, which is 80 km from Nagpur.
The main conflagration has reportedly been extinguished and nearby villages have been evacuated as a precautionary measure, officials said.